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Needed: A Flexible Approach to Smartphone Integration

By CCE Admin, November 6, 2013


QNX SDK for HTML5. Photo by QNX Software Systems.

By Derek Kuhn, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, QNX Software Systems

There’s no question that the car and the smartphone are converging; they have been for a while.  The real question is whether this convergence will be balanced or whether the smartphone will play a much larger role in automotive infotainment. Is it possible to strike a balance that will allow everyone — consumers, automakers, smartphone makers, and app developers — to benefit?

From the consumer’s perspective, it’s about choice. Specifically, consumers want a car that will integrate with their smartphone of choice, even if they switch smartphone platforms several times during the lifetime of the vehicle. It’s also about the level of integration. In fact, a seamlessly integrated user experience (UX), not the smartphone per se, is what consumers really want in the car.

From the automaker’s perspective, it’s about satisfying consumer demands, but in a way that promotes safe, distraction-free driving. It’s also about achieving this integration while maintaining a consistent, branded user experience — the fundamental UX that the automaker builds into the car should remain consistent, regardless of which phone the consumer uses.

From the smartphone maker’s perspective, integrating with the car offers an opportunity to capitalize on the millions of hours that people spend in their vehicles every day — hours where, until recently, little interaction with the phone, or its apps, has occurred. Integration also enables the smartphone’s developer community to create car-focused apps. These apps can benefit the smartphone maker through increased developer revenues and through promoting greater brand allegiance among consumers — who wouldn’t like a phone that allows them to remain productive while driving in a safe and secure manner?

It may seem that automakers are squeezed between the agendas of smartphone makers and the demands of consumers. But, in reality, smartphone integration offers automakers a real opportunity, as it can provide access to apps that may otherwise be out of their reach — developers are more likely to create apps for a high-volume smartphone platform than for a specific infotainment system.

The question is, which approach to smartphone connectivity? There is, as yet, no universal standard. Yes, MirrorLink is an attempt; it’s based on well-established, non-proprietary technologies and is backed by a consortium of automotive and electronics companies. But the reality is, smartphone makers have a natural interest in promoting their own proprietary connectivity methods. So I doubt that one standard will ever become universally adopted.

All this creates a dilemma for automakers. How do they place a bet on the future? Which smartphones, or smartphone apps, will they will need to support 2, 5, or 10 years from now? For this reason, they need to deploy flexible infotainment platforms that can offer compatibility with multiple smartphone-integration approaches. They also need to embed a core set of apps into their infotainment head units and ensure that they can update those apps, safely and remotely, over the course of the car’s lifetime. That way, the car can deliver a satisfactory UX regardless of which smartphone is present — or even if no smartphone is present.

To achieve this experience, automakers need to embrace an application framework like the HTML5 open standard, which allows them to leverage a huge developer community. HTML5 supports all the major smartphone platforms, making it the broadest cross-platform development environment. Also, by deploying a head unit that supports HTML5 apps, the automaker can import applications from the mobile environment and also host cloud-based apps. Both of these options make it easier to keep the vehicle experience fresh and up to date.

At the same time, automakers can add support for connectivity protocols that are designed to enable safe integration of smartphone apps. These can help the automaker prevent unsafe apps from running and ensure that the UX for smartphone-based apps is consistent with that of built-in apps. The end result can be a balanced environment where smartphones bring apps into the car, consumers enjoy the integration they desire, and automakers deliver a consistent, branded experience.

As vice president of sales and marketing, Derek Kuhn is responsible for developing strategies that increase market share and drive revenue growth in QNX Software Systems’ core and emerging markets.